Frameworks & Approaches


Frameworks & Approaches describe popular ways to gather and make sense of data.

Developmental Evaluation

In 2007, a celebrated book called Getting to Maybe: How the World is Changed, introduced Developmental Evaluation. Authors Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman and Michael Patton wrote about an evaluation approach that’s especially suited to the complexities of tough social issues and social innovation.

Developmental evaluation recognises the primacy of relationships and values, and that community work involves complex issues and social systems.

  • See this 10 minute clip by Mark Cabaj on the difference between simple, complicated and complex issues.
  • See also this three minute Ted Talk by Eric Berlow on thinking about complexity and systems.

Developmental evaluation emerged from a need to support real-time learning in complex, emerging and dynamic situations.

Since 2007, interest in Developmental Evaluation (DE) has increased and a growing number of resources have been developed to explain what DE is and how it works.

Important features of developmental evaluation

Developmental evaluation aims to help innovators create social change in complex and uncertain environments.

It facilitates real time feedback as a project or programme develops, by asking questions and creating feedback loops as it progresses.

The DE evaluator/s or team walks alongside the initiative at the pace of that initiative, holding up a mirror to what is happening, being a critical friend, supporting its development and informing decision making.

Developmental evaluation differs from traditional forms of evaluation in these important ways (adapted by Dozois et al, 2010, from Westley, Zimmerman & Patton, 2006).

  • The main focus is on adaptive learning rather than accountability to an external authority.
  • The purpose is to provide real-time feedback and insights to support development.
  • The evaluator becomes a member of the team.
  • The DE role extends well beyond data collection and analysis; the evaluator actively influences developments and helps participants learn from them.
  • The evaluation is designed to see how things work and reveal innovative ideas.
  • The approach is flexible, with new measures and monitoring mechanisms evolving as understanding of the situation deepens and the initiative’s goals emerge.

    When to try Developmental Evaluation

    At the African Evaluation Association Conference in Cameroon in 2014, Kate McKegg and Michael Patton presented a workshop on DE readiness.

    The following is adapted from this workshop.

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